Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
Resident Evil 7 wears its inspirations on its bloodied, gore-soaked sleeve. You’ll have seen the new direction it has taken for the series - you couldn’t miss the trailers, the impressive debut on Sony’s E3 stage or even the multiple demos (with their own mysteries).This was Capcom pressing the reset button - or rather, the soft reboot button - seemingly getting rid of the nonsensical, hyperbolic action of Resident Evil 6 and returning the series to its roots. A house, ripe for exploration. Only now, it’s all first-person and there’s a hefty focus on atmosphere instead of action, something extremely reminiscent of another game that had occupied Sony’s stage a year or so before: P.T.
But Konami’s loss is Capcom’s gain. Resident Evil 7 casts you as Ethan, a husband on the search for Mia, his wife missing for three years. His sources point him to Dulvey and a decrepit, rundown house amidst swampland that recalls the southern gothic horror of True Detective’s first season. It’s here the game begins, your viewpoint that of Ethan as he navigates his way through the sprawling estate of the Baker family. Pulled directly from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jack, Marguerite and the rest of the family serve as main antagonists - gone are the histrionics of past Resident Evil games. Instead of Nemesis prowling the corridors, Jack serves as your first nemesis - equally indestructible but the grounded nature of the scenario making things all the more terrifying. He is merely the first barrier to escaping the claustrophobia of the Baker residence.
Terrifying, horrifying and shockingly gory, the first-person viewpoint imbues the series with an immediacy never found in other games. There’s a physicality to everything - the grime feels caked on, you can almost smell the offal scattered about and even Ethan himself has a new degree of in-your-face viscerality. This game is violent to the extreme - there were more than a handful of moments that will make you wince, but it doesn’t quite feel gratuitous thanks to a morbid sense of black humour that shines through the horror.
Other inspirations become apparent, beyond the immediate P.T. references. The mix of humour and mini-boss battles recalls Capcom’s other, far more zombie-laced series Dead Rising and its memorable psychos. One series staple that manages to make the jump are Resident Evil’s puzzles, required to progress the story and open many locked doors within the Baker house. They range in complexity and variation, some taking direct inspiration from iPhone game Shadowmatic, while one later puzzle in the game recalls a fiendish trap from Saw. If anything, the puzzles are almost too logical, if that could be considered a fault. Progress through the game is exceptionally linear - a given due to the narrative - and the balance between puzzles and combat feels right. The main enemies, away from the Baker family, are the ‘Molded’ - black, oily enemies of varying athleticism, offense and size that prove a challenge to start but soon become more of an inconvenience once Ethan’s arsenal expands.
There’s also a strong focus on inventory management. Herbs are back, back, back! And can now be combined, as can many other things, with chemical fluid to create impressively powerful first aid medicine (you’ll see) as well as with other substances to create different ammo and the like. It’s very simple to use and there’s a realistic, homemade feel to everything in keeping with the grimy aesthetic that pervades the whole game.
It’s an intense ride and one with narrative payoffs that reward a second playthrough. However - and this is a fairly big caveat - Resident Evil 7 is by no means a long game. We managed to complete through to the credits in less than eight hours. Yes, there are collectables and Vault-boy-esque figurines to shoot, but most will only return to check out the narrative byroads that change the experience on multiple attempts. The purity of the storytelling and the impact it makes just about makes up for the brevity of it all though. Far better to have a succinct plot free of waffle than pointless padding after all, although a trophy for completing the game in under four hours does rather make light of the fact that it’s not that long.
Graphically the game is redolent in lurid detail. There are a few textures that take time to load in or just don’t look all that great to begin with, but overall the careful placement of detritus really gives each room a character, along with heaps of environmental storytelling. The characters themselves are also wonderfully realised, to the point where you can almost feel their pallid, clammy skin as they reach out to you. Sound design is also crucial to a game like this and the creaking, dilapidated buildings leave you in a semi-permanent tenseness.
One way of extending the experience should you have the equipment is the VR mode, specifically made for PSVR. It’s a remarkable way to play the game and one we have to confess we tried after completing the story, so we had something to compare (but also so we knew where all the jump scares would be!) There are evident concessions in terms of graphical fidelity - there’s a noticeable reduction in detail and many of the cutscenes aren’t VR-compatible, instead playing out in standard cinema-style display. Likewise, it doesn’t appear that 3D audio is implemented particularly well. Beyond this, however, it’s impressive to have a game as extensively VR-compatible as this and it adds a whole new degree of immersion. In a way, however, perhaps it was the VR mode that resulted in the game barely hitting eight hours in length, but that’s just speculation.
A satisfying resolution to the story will provide foreshadowing should you want to go back through, although the game gets less scary as your power increases and opponents become more and more ridiculous. The use of VCR tapes to provide context is clever - you pick them up and watch them, inhabiting the role of whoever is on the tape. They often give you a sneak peek of an upcoming area as well as clues to progress and a few grisly moments for good measure. Everything felt tight, satisfying and a welcome return to actual fear that has long been absent from the Resident Evil franchise. It’s definitely well worth your time whether you’re a stalwart fan (and there are a few nods here and there for those) or a newcomer and longevity will depend on your ability. It’s a radical departure for the series and one that feels right. On a personal note, I’ve never been a fan of the franchise but this one had me rapt, always curious to see what gruesome surprise came next. I guess you can now consider me part of the family.